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Darrell Sweet - The Lord of the Eagles.jpg
"The Lord of the Eagles" by Darrell Sweet
General Information
OriginsAnimals sung and created by Manwë and Yavanna
Eagle's Eyrie
LanguagesAt least Valarin, Quenya, Sindarin, Westron
MembersThorondor, Great Eagle, Gwaihir, Landroval, Meneldor
Physical Description
LifespanUnknown, but obviously very longeval[1][note 1]
GalleryImages of Eagles

The Eagles were birds that served as messengers of Manwë. Among those were the Great Eagles, immense birds who were sentient and capable of speech, and often helped Men, Elves and Wizards in the quests to defeat evil. They were "devised" by Manwë Súlimo, King of the Valar, and were often called the Eagles of Manwë.

They were sent from Valinor to Middle-earth to keep an eye on the exiled Ñoldor, and on their foe the evil Vala Morgoth.


[edit] History

The Great Eagles were messengers of Manwë, the ruler of the sky and Lord of the Valar.

[edit] First Age

Ted Nasmith - Beren and Lúthien are Flown to Safety

At a command of Manwë, for a time the Lord of the Eagles, Thorondor kept his eyries at the top of Thangorodrim, the volcano above Angband itself[2][3]. While they lived there, Thorondor helped Fingon rescue Maedhros. Many years later, three of the Great Eagles came to the aid of Beren and Lúthien, bearing them away from Thangorodrim after both had drained their strength in the Quest for the Silmaril.[4] Thorondor's folk later removed their eyries to the Crissaegrim, part of the Echoriad about Gondolin. There they were friends of Turgon, keeping spies off the mountains, bringing him news and keeping spies off the borders. Because of their guardianship, the Orcs were unable to approach either the nearby mountains,[5] or the important ford of Brithiach to the south;[6] their watch had been redoubled after the coming of Tuor,[7] enabling Gondolin to remain undiscovered the longest of all Elven realms. When the city fell at last, the eagles of Thorondor protected the fugitives, driving away the orcs that ambushed them at Cirith Thoronath, the Eagles' Cleft north of Gondolin.[5]

Thorondor wounded Morgoth in the face after Morgoth's battle with Fingolfin, and he carried Fingolfin's body to the Echoriath, where he was buried by Fingon.

The Eagles fought alongside the army of the Valar, Elves and Edain during the War of Wrath at the end of the First Age. After the appearance of winged dragons, all the great birds gathered under Thorondor to Eärendil, and destroyed the majority of the dragons.[8]

[edit] Númenor

In the Second Age, a pair of Eagles had an eyrie in the King's House in Armenelos, the capital of Númenor until the time of Tar-Ancalimon, when the Kings of Númenor became hostile to the Valar.

The Númenóreans believed that three eagles, "the Witnesses of Manwë", were sent by Manwë to guard the summit of Meneltarma; these appeared whenever one approached the hallow and staying in the sky during the Three Prayers.

Many eagles lived upon the hills around Sorontil in the north of the island.[9]

Ted Nasmith - The Eagles of Manwë

Eagle-shaped storm clouds, called the "Eagles of the Lords of the West", were sent by Manwë when he tried to reason with or threaten the Númenóreans.[10]

[edit] Third Age

"- Farewell! wherever you fare, till your eyries receive you at the journey's end!
- May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks.
― Polite way to exchange good-bye with an Eagle

By the end of the Third Age, a colony under the Great Eagle lived in the northern parts of the Misty Mountains who mostly nested upon the eastward slopes not far from the High Pass leading from Rivendell, and thus in the direct vicinity of the Goblin-town beneath; they often afflicted the goblins and disrupted their plans.

These Eagles helped the Elves of Rivendell and Radagast in watching the land and in gathering news about the Orcs.[11][12]. As a result of feeding on the sheep of the local Woodmen of Mirkwood, their relationship was not good and the Eagles were afraid of their bows.

Those rescued Thorin's company from a band of Goblins and Wargs and carried them to the Carrock[13] and some days later they espied the mustering of goblins all over the Mountains, to be gathered under the Great Eagle in the Battle of Five Armies near Erebor. It was only with their help that the Dwarves, Men and Elves managed to defeat the goblins.[14] The Great Eagle became King of All Birds.

The Eagles appeared in great numbers at the Battle of the Morannon, helping the Host of the West against the Nazgûl. Several of them rescued Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee from Mount Doom after the One Ring had been destroyed.[15]

[edit] Names

In Gnomish, one of Tolkien's early conceptions of an Elven language, a word for "eagle" is ioroth (poetic form ior). A cognate of the same meaning in Qenya is the poetic ea(r) or earen. Another Gnomish word for "an eagle" is thorn.[16]

In the later languages, the Quenya word for eagle is soron and in Noldorin/Sindarin thoron/thorn[17]

The Thornhoth was the name for the eagle-folk in the earliest legends.[18]

[edit] Origin and nature

For some time Tolkien considered the Eagles as bird-shaped Maiar.[19] From this stage comes this excerpt from The Silmarillion:[20][21][22]

Spirits in the shape of hawks and eagles flew ever to and from his halls; and their eyes could see to the depths of the seas, and pierce the hidden caverns beneath the world.

The same used to be applied to certain intelligent animals, like Huan:[23]

Living things in Aman. As the Valar would robe themselves like the Children, many of the Maiar robed themselves like other lesser living things, as trees, flowers, beasts. (Huan.)

However, the notion of a "Maia" like Thorondor having descendants contradicted later concepts. Therefore, Tolkien decided that the Great Eagles, Huan and other intelligent animals were just animals, despite being "higher level" ones.[24]

But true 'rational' creatures, 'speaking peoples', are all of human / 'humanoid' form. Only the Valar and Maiar are intelligences that can assume forms of Arda at will. Huan and Sorontar could be Maiar - emissaries of Manwe. But unfortunately in The Lord of the Rings Gwaehir and Landroval are said to be descendants of Sorontar. (...) In summary: I think it must be assumed that 'talking' is not necessarily the sign of the possession of a 'rational soul' or fëa. (...) The same sort of thing may be said of Huan and the Eagles: they were taught language by the Valar, and raised to a higher level - but they still had no fëar.

Curiously, the Ents are not mentioned in the text. Probably Tolkien viewed them as a 'humanoid' people of their own kind, which would leave them free of the offspring problem. In fact, Treebeard is described as "man-like" in The Lord of the Rings.[25]

In a later text, the Eagles were first envisioned by Manwë during the Music of the Ainur, and appeared before the awakening of the Elves.[26][27]

Then Manwë awoke, and he went down to Yavanna upon Ezellohar, and he sat beside her beneath the Two Trees. And Manwë said: 'O Kementári, Eru hath spoken, saying: "Do then any of the Valar suppose that I did not hear all the Song, even the least sound of the least voice? Behold! When the Children awake, then the thought of Yavanna will awake also, and it will summon spirits from afar, and they will go among the kelvar and the olvar, and some will dwell therein, and be held in reverence, and their just anger shall be feared. For a time: while the Firstborn are in their power, and while the Secondborn are young." But dost them not now remember, Kementári, that thy thought sang not always alone? Did not thy thought and mine meet also, so that we took wing together like great birds that soar above the clouds? That also shall come to be by the heed of Ilúvatar, and before the Children awake there shall go forth with wings like the wind the Eagles of the Lords of the West.'

In the text Tolkien stresses the fact that the Eagles appeared "before the Children awake", whereas the "spirits from afar" that would give rise to the Ents only would appear "when the Children awake". Therefore, there is no strong indication that Tolkien could have changed his mind and abandoned the notion that the Eagles have no fëar. Indeed, to the Ents, in turn, a very special origin is given, which can be compared to the origin of the Dwarves:[28][29]

No one knew whence they (Ents) came or first appeared. The High Elves said that the Valar did not mention them in the 'Music'. But some (Galadriel) were [of the] opinion that when Yavanna discovered the mercy of Eru to Aule in the matter of the Dwarves, she besought Eru (through Manwe) asking him to give life to things made of living things not stone, and that the Ents were either souls sent to inhabit trees, or else that slowly took the likeness of trees owing to their inborn love of trees.

It is quite remarkable that this contrast between the Ents and their "humanoid" or free nature, on one side, and the Eagles and their animal or conditioned nature, on the other side, can already be intuited in the Treebeard's song in The Lord of the Rings:[30]

Learn now the lore of Living Creatures!
First name the four, the free peoples
Eldest of all, the Elf children
Dwarf the delver, dark are his houses
Ent the earthborn, old as mountains
Man the mortal, master of horses;

Hm, hm, hm.

Beaver the builder, buck the leaper
Bear bee hunter, boar the fighter
Hound is hungry, hare is fearful...

Hm, hm.

Eagle in eyrie, ox in pasture,
Hart horn crowned; hawk is swiftest
Swan the whitest, serpent coldest...

[edit] Flying the Ring to Mount Doom

"The Eagles are a dangerous 'machine'. I have used them sparingly, and that is the absolute limit of their credibility or usefulness. "
Letter 210, J.R.R. Tolkien

Many skeptical readers have wondered why the Eagles simply didn't carry Frodo and the One Ring into Mordor and drop the Ring in Mount Doom, or at least aid the Fellowship at some part of the journey, such as helping them avoiding the Redhorn Gate and Moria.

At first glance this seems incredibly easy compared to what actually happened (and it would have made a boring book).

The party of Tolkienists that accepts this as a plot hole usually respond that in any book there are usually plot holes. In a larger, far more detailed and realistic book we expect fewer (if any) plot holes, when in reality there is a far greater chance.

[edit] Considering the Eagles

Strangely, the possibility of using the Eagles has not been mentioned at all during the Council of Elrond. Although many flawed proposals are made during it (destroy the Ring, guard it, send it to the West, give it to Tom Bombadil), none of the participants thought to propose this seemingly obvious solution, especially after Gandalf described his escape with Gwaihir; even if the Eagle plan was to be countered or dismissed implausible later for some reason (like the ones above), it would be only logical to be mentioned.

On the other hand, the Council was seen deciding the fate of the Ring, not the manner; this was left to the discretion of the Fellowship. Indeed, during its existence, the Fellowship had not even decided whether they should go directly to Mordor or to seek aid from Gondor, let alone the manner to do so, before decisively being broken at Amon Hen. If Gandalf ever considered requesting the help of the Eagles after some point (eg. after passing the Misty Mountains) it's not mentioned in the narrative.[31]

[edit] Official explanation to the problem

It seems that nobody noticed this alleged plot-hole during Tolkien's lifetime, as there is no surviving letter where Tolkien is inquired so. It is unknown whether Tolkien ever was aware of the issue while writing the book or later.

Tolkien's only relevant mention is concerning a possible adaptation of the Lord of the Rings into a movie, where he simply mentions that the Eagles should be used carefully as a plot device and was self-aware whenever he used them.[32]

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh joke around the issue on the writer-director DVD commentary track; writing partner Philippa Boyens then bursts out and angrily declares one of the common explanations: "Why does everyone always say that?! The flying Nazgûl on their Fell Beasts would have stopped them! How more obvious does that need to be?! Mordor has flying creatures too!"

The topic is also brought up in the video game The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, where the heroes (who have experience working with the Great Eagles) suggest having one fly Frodo and the Ring to Mount Doom. Gandalf, however, explains that Sauron would anticipate such an intrusion and how dangerous the attempt would be.

[edit] Other explanations

According to The Field of Cormallen, some Eagles flew to Mount Doom, rescued Frodo and Sam and carried them back. Critics say that they could as well had carried them there in the first place.

As Tolkien's writings on the Eagles do not allow for an explanation, several speculative theories have been proposed by critics, although they are not definitive and can be countered.[33][34][35]

  • The Eagles coming from the air would have been fairly obvious and defenseless to Sauron; the Fell beasts and/or archers would most likely have stopped the attempt. The Eagles expressed fear in The Hobbit about going into the Lands of Men because of their bows. After the Ring is destroyed (along with all of Sauron's forces), the Eagles met no resistance from evil forces; thus, they were able to rescue Frodo and Sam.
This often cited argument could possibly have been countered with a parallel divertive battle plan, more or less like the Battle of the Morannon begun to help Frodo.
  • The Eagles could have possibly become corrupted by the power of the Ring and would have most likely attempted to prevent the destruction. Gandalf himself not only knew that anyone might and would refuse to throw in the Ring, but he was also afraid of it; the Eagles, as Maiar, could have been corruptive and dangerous.
  • As emissaries of the Valar, the Eagles may have been somehow limited in how they intervened to great events, which the Valar perhaps considered matters between the Elves and Sauron;[36] for example, they had sent the Wizards, who were prohibited to directly fight Sauron by physical or supernatural force, and the Eagles did aid the free peoples and even participated in battles. But otherwise, the Eagles would had been either afraid, unwilling, incapable, or (like the Wizards) forbidden to take any greater part.
  • The Eagles's availability and power must have been limited. Gwaihir only arrives at Isengard because he is sent by Radagast. Once he rescues Gandalf, the Wizard asks him how far he can bear him, to which the Eagle replies "...not to the ends of the earth. I was sent to bear tidings not burdens." He took Gandalf just to Edoras, so he could find a horse to ride, and then departed.
  • With the War of the Ring expanding to all the western realms of Middle-earth, the Eagles would need to protect their own lands in the event that Sauron's forces invade, and thus would be unable to spare any resources to assist the Fellowship.

[edit] Inspiration

Tolkien's painting of an eagle on a crag appears in some editions of The Hobbit. According to Christopher Tolkien, the author based this picture on a painting by Archibald Thorburn of an immature Golden Eagle, which Christopher found for him in The Birds of the British Isles by T.A. Coward. However, Tolkien's use of this model does not necessarily mean that his birds were ordinary Golden Eagles.

[edit] Other versions of the legendarium

In the earliest version of the fall of Gondolin, the king of the eagles, Thorndor (later Thorondor), had no love for Melko (later Melkor) because he had caught many eagles and tortured them for the magic words that would enable him to fly (in order to challenge Manwë for command of the air). When the eagles refused to reveal the magic words Melko cut off their wings in order to fashion a pair for himself, "but it availed not".[18]

[edit] Portrayal in adaptations

2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:

The Eagles are associated with moths; while Gandalf is trapped on the summit of Orthanc, he whispers to a moth and lets it go. Later, when confronted by Saruman, the moth reappears; an Eagle (supposedly Gwaihir) arrives and Gandalf escapes on its back.

2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:

Right before the Battle of the Morannon, Gandalf notices a moth flies near him. Then the Eagles appear and fly against the fell beasts. They pick up Frodo and Sam from the slopes of Orodruin.

2012: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:

As Thorin and Company are trapped in a falling tree by the band of Azog and their Wargs, Gandalf uses a moth to summon them to his aid. They grasp the wargs and drop them onto the rocks or in the fire, pick up an unconscious Thorin, and save the protagonists from falling. Unlike in the book, they drop the characters on the Carrock and leave; as in the other film adaptations, the Eagles don't appear sentient and there is no dialogue between them and the characters.

2014: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies:

The Eagles participate in the battle, and upon their arrival one drops Beorn in bear-form into the field of battle.

[edit] External links

[edit] Notes

  1. Since Gwaihir and Landroval were said to have helped Thorondor in the escape of Beren and Lúthien (F.A. 466) and they were both alive at the time of the War of the Ring (T.A. 3019) that would make them at least 6,584 years old.


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part One. The Grey Annals" p. 68
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Noldor in Beleriand"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Beren and Lúthien"
  5. 5.0 5.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin"
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Ruin of Doriath"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "A Description of the Island of Númenor"
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Akallabêth: The Downfall of Númenor"
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Ring Goes South"
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Queer Lodgings"
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Return Journey"
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Field of Cormallen"
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien, "I-Lam na-Ngoldathon: The Grammar and Lexicon of the Gnomish Tongue", in Parma Eldalamberon XI (edited by Christopher Gilson, Arden R. Smith, and Patrick H. Wynne), pp. 51, 73
  17. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, Part Three: "The Etymologies"
  18. 18.0 18.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "III. The Fall of Gondolin", p. 103
  19. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Two. The Annals of Aman" p. 138
  20. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Beginning of Days"
  21. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, "Part Two: Valinor and Middle-earth before The Lord of the Rings, IV. Ainulindalë (Lost Road)"
  22. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part One. Ainulindalë: The Music of the Ainur and the Coming of the Valar [Version C]"
  23. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Five. Myths Transformed", "[Text] VIII". Note 4.
  24. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Five. Myths Transformed" pp. 409-11
  25. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "Treebeard"
  26. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Aulë and Yavanna"
  27. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Three. The Wanderings of Húrin and Other Writings not forming part of the Quenta Silmarillion: IV. Of the Ents and the Eagles"
  28. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Three. The Wanderings of Húrin and Other Writings not forming part of the Quenta Silmarillion: IV. Of the Ents and the Eagles"
  29. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 247, (dated 20 September 1963)
  30. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "Treebeard"
  31. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II
  32. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 210, (undated, written June 1958)
  33. Tolkien FAQ
  34. Could the eagles have flown Frodo into Mordor?
  35. Michael Martinez, "Is There An In-story Explanation For Why the Eagles Rarely Participate in Great Events?", (accessed 20 October 2020)
  36. Cf. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond", Elrond: "for good or ill [the Ring] belongs to Middle-earth; it is for us who still dwell here to deal with it".